WARNING: this story contains graphic information

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The family of Sarah Zent and her three children will have to wait until Thursday for a decision by the jury after jurors were sequestered Wednesday afternoon.

The news was delivered to Sarah’s mother, Melanie Fields, her sister, Joselyn, and a group of about 30 friends and family on the third floor of the Allen County Courthouse around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. The court recessed just before noon and their hope was a decision would come.

All the families of Sarah and the three children have come each and every day, witnessing more than once the horrific photos taken by Fort Wayne crime scene of the slain children on the bed with their mother, kneeling at the edge.

“I just want her to know she’s not there by herself,” Jennifer More, 2-year-old Aubree’s grandmother, said. “She was my pretty girl. That was her name. Pretty girl.”

Pictured are Sarah Zent and her 3 children.

Patrice Coleman with Victim Assistance has shepherded this group since the trial began last week with jury selection, her soft voice guiding them through the process that can be confusing, especially when there’s terrible grief.

After Coleman told the group jury deliberations would resume at 9 a.m., they formed a circle around Fields to say a silent prayer with some laying on of hands.

It will be a tough night for all.

Cohen Hancz-Barron, 22, who kept his head down throughout the trial while writing or drawing on a paper tablet, still awaits his fate and a further possible penalty of life without parole, if convicted. He was charged with four counts of murder for Sarah Zent, 26, her two sons, Carter, 5, and Ashton, 3, and daughter, Aubree,2.


At closing arguments Wednesday morning, the defense, led by William Lebrato, Allen County chief public defender, asked the jury to put aside its emotions.

“They want you to see that picture of those three dead children and Sarah on the bed,” Lebrato said, arguing that “the state’s case is circumstantial at best,” and those circumstances had to be “so conclusive in nature,” that no other verdict was possible.

Sarah’s sister, Joselyn Zent, her boyfriend, Jeremy Nielsen and neighbor Richard Bevelle testified they never knew of any physical violence or animosity between the two. Hancz-Barron’s sperm was found in Sarah’s vagina, Lebrato said, evidence taken at the time of her death and he’d called her “babe” at an outdoor cookout the night before.

DNA found on a pair of gardening gloves next to Aubree wasn’t conclusive enough because the tiny swab didn’t mean the gloves were used when the victims were stabbed.

“Who cares about the gardening gloves? They’d be soaked in blood…then you tell them there’s a little bit of DNA on there,” Lebrato said.

After Hancz-Barron fled to Lafayette in a stolen truck belonging to Bevelle and Zent’s Visa card was on his person, the prosecution didn’t check to see if the card had been used, Lebrato said. It could have been given to him by Sarah to pick up extra beer at the cookout when Bevelle and Hancz-Barron were tasked with going to a liquor store, Lebrato argued.

Bevelle’s camera surveillance is only motion sensored, alerting him to activity outside, but not stored, which meant he reported seeing the two of them outside at 1:30 a.m. smoking a cigarette and appearing normal, but there was no other surveillance available from the side door on McKee Street that might show another person entering the house, Lebrato said.

“We don’t know how many people were in and out of that side door,” Lebrato said.

Lebrato also stressed that no one saw any blood on Hancz-Barron when he turned up at his mother, Denise Hancz-Barron’s, home around 6:15 a.m. and at Hannah Collins apartment in Lafayette around 11 a.m. Hancz-Barron stole the truck at 5:55 a.m. that morning, according to surveillance video from a nearby school.

“There would be blood all over those clothes. No male clothes with blood were found,” Lebrato said.

But deputy prosecutor Tesa Helge, in the state’s rebuttal, refuted Lebrato’s assertions. Hancz-Barron had more than three hours after that cigarette outside and after he committed a personal, angry and deliberate crime. It was only Hancz-Barron who stole the truck after having plenty of time to conceal and cover up, she said.

His DNA was not only on the gardening gloves, but on a blue latex glove found in the bathroom, on Sarah Zent’s back and on her thighs where Dr. Scott Wagner, forensic biologist, also found bruises. All the belongings from a diaper bag found dumped on the bed and Sarah’s purse along with wads of toilet paper were evidence he was looking for something, and Sarah’s Visa card went missing.

“He was in the house for hours,” Helge asked. “What was he doing?”

A chair was propped against the knob of the front door to keep it from opening and the large pink blanket covering the victims was so artfully placed, it took the family at least an hour before they were found.

In the stolen, black Harley Davidson F-150 pickup truck Hancz Barron drove to Lafayette, Fort Wayne Police Department crime scene technician found a large knife, not too different from the folding knife Hancz-Barron had on him at his arrest. But that knife was clean and “luckily” there was blood on the folding knife that matched all but Aubree’s DNA, Helge said.

The tested knife was used at least 55 times to stab Sarah Zent, 21 times; Carter, 19. Both of those victims had defense wounds which means they fought back. Aubree received four stab wounds, one very deep across the neck, cutting off her breath quickly, Chief Counsel Tom Chaille said during closing arguments. Ashton, 3, only 36 pounds, was stabbed 11 times.

The wounds were deliberate, cutting the carotid arteries and jugular veins of each victim. Other stab wounds on each victim were on the right flank, delivering gashes to the liver, Chaille said.

There was no forced entry into the home and the partially constructed zip gun in the kitchen, along with shell casings and live ammunition spread around the kitchen floor amongst Hancz-Barron’s belongings, didn’t appear to have anything to do with what happened in “that awful bedroom,” as Chaille described it. Nor did the can of WD-40 found next to the stove, although it could have been part of the frantic machinations of the killer during the aftermath.

Someone, if not Hancz Barron, spent quite a bit of time unrolling eight rolls of toilet paper, Chaille said. That toilet paper and empty rolls were found on the bed, beside and on Sarah’s head and in the bathroom.

A phone call to Hancz-Barron’s step mother, Sarah Barron, was made during the time Hancz-Barron would have been in the house making his way from room to room. “Change your name. Move.  When you find out what I did, you’ll never want to talk to me again,” he told her, according to court testimony.

In the probable cause affidavit written by lead homicide detective Brian Martin, Hancz Barron went further. “I was there,” he told Sarah Barron when she asked about the quadruple homicide. He told her to watch the news and to call a lawyer in Chicago – it would cost about $100,000 – and that he was going to “take the time for the killer because he had time coming anyway.” He also said there was no gun involved.

Perhaps the most chilling evidence presented Wednesday was a lamp base found on the bed with items from a diaper bag and Sarah’s purse. The three children had been bashed with some kind of object that may have knocked them unconscious and it could have been that lamp, Chaille said.

“Everything I smelled in that house, I smelled in that truck,” Bevelle told the jury last week when he was on the witness stand, a statement the defense seemed to suggest tied him to the scene more than it did his own observations. Bevelle’s truck was the one that was stolen and he was the one who recovered it when Fort Wayne crime scene processed it after it was returned from Lafayette.

He was the only one who said that, Lebrato said.

But when asked what that smell was, Bevelle replied in his usual soft spoken way.

“It was the smell of death.”